Next Monday (July 9, 2012), Chef Jonny Korecki and fellow Top Chef Canada finalist Trevor Bird will host a FABLE-ous dinner at Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar (18 York Street). It will begin with cocktails at 6:30 pm. Dinner will follow at 7 pm.
One of several Bird has planned and organized across Canada, Ottawa’s will be a 5-course dinner, pairing his farm-to-fork approach to food at his newly opened restaurant in Kitsilano British Columbia with Korecki’s Asian cuisine-inspired approach at Sidedoor.
Puns aside, we think the dinner will be fabulous.
There are several reasons. Firstly, both Korecki and Bird are rather accomplished, their competing in the most recent season of the reality television competition that crowned former Marben Restaurant Executive Chef Carl Heinrich “Top Chef” in Canada. Both Korecki and Bird demonstrated impressive skills, deftly meeting sometimes ridiculous challenges under significant pressure.
Secondly, Korecki has been working hard, refining the dishes and menu at Sidedoor.
In fact, the restaurant has changed significantly since Jenn and I walked through its doors after it had its soft opening, February 18, 2011. Then, local food writers capitalized on Korecki and his former Executive Chef Matthew Carmichael having apprenticed with renowned chef Susur Lee. Accordingly, Sidedoor “introduced” Asian contemporary food to the nation’s capital.
Lee, whom food enthusiasts may have seen become a finalist on the second season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, is celebrated for two things. Firstly, his mastery of many worldly cuisines. The exacting precision with which he cooks is legendary. Secondly, his re-imagining Asian, be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, or South-Asian, food for fine dining. One of his first restaurants’ innovations was individual platings. Traditionally, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai meals consist of communal plates and individual bowls for rice.
Yes, Carmichael and Korecki were exposed to high end Asian food during their careers. But, Sidedoor, is more novel than a throwback to the days when they worked in Lee’s Toronto restaurants. Carmichael spent his vacation after 2010’s Gold Medal Plates competition in Southeast Asia. There, he took lessons on preparing authentic cuisine from locals, including how to make mortar and pestle ground curry pastes and curries. These lessons inspired Sidedoor’s opening menu.
Suffice it to say, Carmichael has a fondness for Asian food, particularly nonya or peranakan street foods, which he took with him to his pop-up at Mellos. The pop-up is one of the new challenges he is pursuing after leaving Caroline Gosselin’s restaurants E18hteen, Social, and Sidedoor several months ago.
Today, Sidedoor’s kitchen is equipped with well-worn wooden and stone mortars and pestles, each dedicated to specific dishes. It is a kitchen of cleavers and handcrafted Japanese carbon steal knives that produces rather authentic Asian dishes and two crowd favourite staples: tacos and doughnuts.
Former Menu Dishes
Current Menu Dishes
When I sat down to coffee with Korecki at Planet Coffee (24 York Street) last week, he had just hired a team of prep cooks, remarking that if Sidedoor becomes anymore popular, he will need to look into offsite prep space. Already, he has thought about making his in-house tortillas entirely from scratch. To date, the tortillas he serves with his popular tacos are made from prepared masa. He simply doesn’t have the space to make masa from flint or dent corn. And, space is fast becoming an issue.
Post Top Chef, Sidedoor serves 600-700 tacos every Saturday. The restaurant is consistently busy. “There can be 5 in the book for lunch. 30, for dinner. But, we can serve 150-200 guests that day; mostly walk-ins,” said Korecki with a smile. “It’s incredible!”
“We have people coming in from Toronto, Montreal…Tofino!”
For the FABLE dinner, despite there being a 140-200 person event space in the restaurant, seats are capped at 80. The event being held on a Monday, Korecki hopes industry will be able to attend. Last week, a quarter of the seats were already spoken for. By now, few if any seats likely remain.
Unlike Sidedoor’s regular menu, Korecki told me the dishes will not be communal, more individual plates. However, like the regular menu, the dishes will be made from sustainable and as local as possible ingredients. Seafood will be Ocean Wise-certified, likely sourced from the Whalesbone. Produce will come from local farms like Mariposa. Everything will be Canadian-sourced.
Seeing the confused look on my face, Korecki explained, “…making Asian food from local ingredients is not as [difficult] as you think.”
Accordingly, employing oriental techniques with available ingredients makes resultant dishes “Asian.” Opt for locally-grown chiles, for instance, in lieu of imported ones. Swap in other local produce and game meats.
To Korecki’s credit, his approach works. Sidedoor is the only place in Ottawa Jenn and I visit for bowls of ramen noodles, our city having no dedicated purveyor. Well, no other purveyor serves anything beyond coconut milk broth and instant noodles.
Korecki’s kitchen employs New York Chef David Chang’s approach to making ramen noodles, opting for sodium carbonate (baked sodium bicarbonate) in lieu of lye water in the noodle dough. As someone who has attempted tonkotsu ramen, with scratch noodles, Sidedoor’s ramen is quite the accomplishment. As Jenn points out, bowls remind her of those she tucked into in Toronto’s noodles houses. The price point and portions are similar as well.
Prior to July, ramen was available as a $6 side-order on the regular dinner menu. It went really well with the son-in-law egg.
Now, if you would like to try Sidedoor’s ramen, bowls are available for lunch.
With the great weather, we highly recommend taking lunch in Sidedoor’s beautiful back patio.
That said, check out the FABLE dinner. Tickets are $85/person with an optional $55 wine pairing. Call to RSVP.
If, like us, you cannot attend, do drop by Sidedoor. Korecki may not have been named Canada’s Top Chef, but he’s making great things happen at his restaurant.
Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar
18 York Street
Tags: Asian Contemporary, ByWard Market, featured, fish taco, Matt Carmichael, ramen, Sidedoor Restaurant, taco, Top Chef Canada